Most people in the country are worrying about the leadership of the country under the new coalition, and their concerns for the nation run to a number of issues, from what will happen with capital gains tax, what will happen with inheritance tax, will there or won’t there be cuts in public services, will the economy survive and will we have a stable government?
Not me. I have perceived a new threat. I am wondering nervously what the reaction will be when the nation wakes up and realises that they have, in David Cameron, an ex-PR man as Prime Minister. An ex-PR man, moreover, of whom Jeff Randall – quoted in the Mirror – said: “In my experience, he never gave a straight answer when dissemblance was a plausible alternative.”
Could this then be the worst time ever for the PR profession, as it becomes clear that, alongside Cameron, there is an ever-increasing presence in the Commons of MPs who have stepped out of the world of lobbying and PR and into the world of government? Will the infiltration of Parliament by corporate-suited, silver-tongued chancers destroy our reputation for good?
Not so long ago, all we had to worry about was the brain-drain from journalism into PR, particularly in the wake of Alistair Campbell’s success with people like Stuart Higgins, Phil Hall and Ian Monk turning gamekeeper, presumably after seeing just how much fun Campbell was having in the close shadow of power.
Now, though, the poachers turned gamekeepers are turning landowners as well, and I wonder how many PR people will begin to see the job as just a stepping stone to greater power, with one thought in their heads: “We can do what Dave’s done. It could be us!”
The old Conservative MP and railway enthusiast Robert Adley (now dead) referred to lobbyists as ‘leeches’. He said: “There is an increasing army, frankly, of spivs around this place, some of whom seem to be able to attract the services of MPs for piddling sums of money, who are responsible in my view for perverting this place.”
And now the ‘leeches’ are taking the place of MPs like Adley: Margot James, just elected to Stourbridge, ran Shire Health Group, a public relations and clinical trials organization; Aviva head of public affairs Tracey Crouch has become Conservative MP for Chatham & Aylesford; Weber Shandwick director Priti Patel won Witham. And that’s just for the Conservatives. A Brand Republic article gives details of many more – click here to see it.
PR is becoming a feeder environment for Government and the influence starts at the very top. My worry is that the PR profession, which has never been seen in as harsh a light as estate agents and bankers, could find the tide shifting against it if the trend continues and more spin is spun in politics, even across the back benches.
The current concerns in the US about lobby power and the integral, incestuous part it plays in US politics have lead to an attempt to legislate against too much insider trading in the Senate (click here to read more). With so many people in positions of power in Westminster with PR and lobbying backgrounds, what does this say about the power of PR to influence the new house?
Forget expenses! I think that the new unbearable truth on the block is that this is the dawn of a new, corrupt age – an age of middle men in sharp suits with a special line in smooth talk and fancy promises. The dawn of a new High Profit-Margin age of public affairs. I believe lobbyists will run amok and that the new breed of politicos, who have come from the lobbying and corporate PR world, will be considerably more receptive to their dark arts.
This is a revised version of yesterday’s post.